In Conversation: Jack Kenna

Sahar Rahmanian

Jack Kenna’s “Tumbling Blocks” presents a collection of sculptures that combine found milk crates with ornate stained glass panels. By arranging most of the works like stacks of delicate blocks on the floor and installing some against the wall like colourful lamps, Kenna has created a space that asks others to walk around his sculptures. This exhibition reveals the artist’s ambition to create geometric patterns and features his memories and personal experience with materials.

Read on to learn more about Kenna’s observations and discoveries for his exhibition.

SH

In your current show, Tumbling Blocks, you have used many milk crates and changed their functions by giving them a new identity and value. I wonder if you see your audience giving your works new purposes and meanings in the future?

JK

I certainly hope that viewers of these works continue to ascribe new meanings and connotations to them over time. One of the reasons I’ve been drawn to milk crates as a subject matter over the past half-decade is that they have so many different associations depending on who you ask about them. They are completely ubiquitous in most peoples’ daily lives and almost anyone can come to these sculptures with some type of personal connection. The best part about showing this body of work is hearing all the different stories about how these objects are being repurposed out in the world.

As far as new purposes go, I view these works as a crystallization of function: the milk crates in this body of work have reached the end of their lifespan. To me it feels symbolic, like the closing of a major chapter. I’ve carried these particular milk crates with me for a long time and they’ve served all types of personal uses for me, but now all they are are monuments to the past.

SH

You created your milk crates in particular shapes and colours for your previous work, Cream Land Sisters Butter Lovers (2019). However, in your current show, you have used already-made milk crates. Could you tell me what you think of the concept of readymades used in art?.

JK

I’ve spent so long making paintings of milk crates, and drawings, and life-sized replicas out of clay, made prints and even tattoos of them, I just finally felt like it was time to work with the real thing. This was a huge leap for me because I haven’t really dabbled much in sculpture—outside of a ceramics context. But working with a found object is so gratifying because it contains a visual history that you can’t conjure on your own. All of the crates have varying degrees of wear, from dents, to cracks, to stains and sticker remnants. These imperfections speak to all the previous lives of the milk crates, calling attention to their utilitarian quality.

SH

Looking at the used milk crates, one can recognize their differences in colors, shapes, and sizes. Could you please tell me more about your process of finding and collecting them?

JK

My collection began out of necessity, in high school, when I kept a few around my bedroom for easy storage and seating. As I started college, moved cities, transferred schools, moved cities again and hopped between a dozen or so rental units and studio spaces, I amassed more crates as they were simply helpful for getting things from point A to point B. Eventually, as I began incorporating them into my art practice, I started looking for them more deliberately. Now I get sent images of them on the street or in antique stores by friends, and sometimes people just give them to me. I always scavenge, barter, or am gifted with them. The only rule is never pay for one!

SH

The exhibition text mentions that you were inspired by your childhood and mother’s artistic practices while working on your project. Would you consider this show a collaboration between you and your mother?

JK

In some ways, yes. I never would have created this work had I not learned how to make stained glass from my mom, who is at this point, a total expert and a stickler for technique. She’s gonna call you out if your solder lines are sloppy, so the bar was high for this work! I think in the end the work in Tumbling Blocks is quite different from the kind of things my mom is making, but she has been an invaluable resource of knowledge and it’s been powerful to see my practice become so intertwined with hers.

SH

What is the next step for you? Where are you planning to take the milk crate motif next in your practices?

JK

I always try to inject a healthy dose of humour into anything I make, so I’m thinking of ways I can push the envelope a bit further in that regard. I’ve been thinking a lot about Tiffany lamps and text. Otherwise I’m trying to focus my attention back to painting and take a bit of breathing room from the milk crates. Plus after this show I need to replenish my collection.

See Jack Kenna’s exhibition, titled “Tumbling Blocks,” at at Burrard Arts Foundation until June 11, 2022.